Ask a Beauty Editor: How to Get Rid of Strawberry Skin
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Reader question: How do I get rid of the strawberry skin on my legs? - @marlaukel
Despite the cutesy nickname sounding like what could be a hit country song, the actual skin condition is a pretty annoying nuisance that is even more annoying to treat. If you're not familiar with the term, it's exactly what it sounds like: little dark dots on your legs that resemble the seeds of a strawberry. More professionally called keratosis pilaris, the black, pitted dots stubbornly remain no matter how often you shave your legs.
That's because those spots aren't ingrown hairs or body acne—they're actually open pores harboring an accumulation of protein called keratin (the same building block for hair, skin, and nails). This—combined with oil, dirt, and bacteria from shaving—creates a plug that blocks the hair follicle. "It most commonly affects the skin of the upper outer arms, anterior thighs, and lower legs," says Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
The buildup can also trigger inflammation, which is why you may see some redness around the black dots. If your spots are raised and irritated (red with a white tip), you're likely dealing with folliculitis, inflammation that happens when hair follicles are irritated by sweat and rubbing. If this is the case, wear looser clothing and try to minimize the amount of friction that happens in the area. And whatever you do, don't pick at these spots, since that can lead to permanent scarring.
As for strawberry skin treatment, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that strawberry legs can be attributed to multiple factors—including crappy razors and good ol' genetics—which means that a universal prevention method doesn't exist. The good news is that while there's no cure, there are ways to keep those black spots at bay.
Before we get into that, a quick disclaimer that strawberry skin is super common and not at all dangerous, so don't feel the need to remove it if you don't want to. However, if you're bothered by the cosmetic appearance, Dr. King says that gentle exfoliation is the best way to get rid of it.
Look for a gentle physical exfoliator, which can come in the form of scrubs, powders, and even tools, to manually resurface your complexion. Dr. King notes that over-exfoliation can inflame the skin and make the condition even more noticeable, so start sparingly—two to three times a week is more than enough. And if you haven't already, invest in a higher-quality razor since shaving with old or dull blades can also cause strawberry legs.
If you have very sensitive skin that doesn't respond well to physical exfoliation, you can apply a daily body cream or body wash containing salicylic acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, or urea instead—their chemical structure allows them to penetrate the outer layers of the skin more easily. This will also help increase cell turnover without irritating your skin.
If the drugstore options aren't giving you enough relief, your dermatologist may prescribe prescription-strength tretinoin (Renova, Retin-A) and steroid creams to use in conjunction with your OTC products. This can help speed up the clearing of dead skin cells.
While doing all of the above will dislodge the keratin plugs, keep in mind that it is a temporary fix. If none of that is working (or you want something more long-lasting), laser hair removal is a good last resort, albeit an expensive one. This process removes strawberry skin by killing the hair at the root (and the no-shaving part is a huge plus).
Now that we have the basics covered, I—with some help from Dr. King—compiled some superstar exfoliating products that you can use to treat strawberry skin. Remember to follow up with a good body moisturizer (with SPF!) since exfoliation can make your skin more susceptible to sunburn.